SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- South Pittsburg's princess has finally returned home.
After more than a decade of efforts by the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society, donors and city government, the Princess Theatre opened its doors to the public Sunday for the first time since the 1980s.
The price tag for the reclamation was around $1.3 million, officials said.
During the open house Sunday, South Pittsburg Mayor Mike Killian said he kept his distance from the building over the past several months because he wanted to be just as surprised as everyone else when it was finally opened to the public.
"I'm a little stunned," he said. "I purposely stayed away, and now that I see it for the first time, it's just beautiful. For the town to have an asset like this now is wonderful."
Marion County Mayor John Graham, who grew up in South Pittsburg, called the unveiling "impressive" and said the theater will be a great addition to the area.
The historic structure was on the verge of collapse in the 1990s, officials said, until a group of concerned residents started a crusade to salvage the structure in 1999.
In February, city commissioners approved a $750,000 loan to finish the work.
"It's just great," longtime resident Carl Case said. "I'm glad to see them do this after all these years."
Case said he remembers coming to the Princess as a teenager, and entering the theater now was like stepping back in time.
"I remember seeing all the old Westerns here," he said. "This was the only place to go back then."
Even though Case hadn't been in the building since he and his then-teenage son went see Jon Voight in "The Champ" more than 25 years ago, he said he plans to return when the theater is fully reopened.
Killian said the town already has been approached by several organizations about using the facility and acknowledged that city leaders plan to show some newly released movies there in the near future.
"Our goal is to keep downtown thriving," he said. "That's really the goal of every town in the country these days. Most of them are failing, but I don't think we are. With this facility, we've taken a big step toward keeping downtown alive."
Officials said the city's payments on the loan needed to complete the theater are covered in the budget, and Killian said he is "not expecting to recover that money."
"It will be a great victory for the town if the events we hold here are enough to cover the daily expenses we'll have," Killian said. "Just wait until we start having events here."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.